I read today how Barnes and Noble is cutting back and closing 450 to 500 stores in the coming years. Whereas the death of this Goliath should fill me with smug satisfaction (given how many mom-n-bob nooky bookstores it killed), it doesn’t. Actually, it fills me with a cold dread. A chilling wave of digitalization, of buying whatever whenever, is washing over us.
So what’s the difference between being served by a teenage Goth punk in a used bookstore as opposed to the same studded wonder doing it in a chain store? One is a sign of hip and trendy urban shopping, the other a sign of the degradation of the service model. My point: shopping in small bookstores is a reader’s pleasure, a wonderful chance to find something new, a lost treasure or an unexpected treat. Shopping in B&N? That’s more like grocery shopping (with a more limited chance of finding something curious on the aisle cap or a dusty overlooked corner). But online? That’s Amazon. Amazon. Amazon. Nothing interesting there. Likely the only thing you’ll stumble over are the ‘finds’ your website provides you. Were you even aware that your reader actually records the information of your reading habits, where you stop, how long you pause? Perhaps the next time you stall in Moby Dick, it’ll suggest Harry Potter for you
I don’t hide my dislike of the new publishing model, that of readers and self-publishers and Amazon. I don’t like it at all. I like (and understand, and am comfortable with) a print industry that requires vetting to enter, of value-added quality, and of a finished product that can be held in one’s hand, read over and over, and that can fill shelves as a display of knowledge and intellectual span. I like used bookstores. I like yellowing books with the marks and signs of readers for decades past. I like the physical feel of a book in my hand. And I like a book that, once mine, stays mine and doesn’t snitch out my habits to its masters. But that’s me.
I’ll mention that it was at a Barnes and Noble that I found a book on Hannibal the Carthaginian on the bargain shelf. This is the guy with the elephants and the Alps, I thought. I flipped through it, weighted it in my hand, looked at the price, added it to my stack. From this came a love of ancient Mediterranean cultures as well as Fire and Bronze and Early ReTyrement. I still have that book too; it’s on my favorites shelf. Maybe I could have made a similar discovery on a tablet but I doubt it. Amazon is about “people who ordered this also liked…”, and not “here’s something out of left field”. And that’s where growth and understanding and learning comes from – left field.
Goodbye, Barnes and Noble. I’ll miss you more than you deserve.